Developing excellence in biostatistics leadership, training and science in Africa: How the Sub-Saharan Africa Consortium for Advanced Biostatistics (SSACAB) training unites expertise to deliver excellence approved with reservations

Tobias F. Chirwa1, Zvifadzo Matsena Zingoni 1, Pascalia Munyewende1, Samuel O. Manda1-3, Henry Mwambi3, Ngianga-Bakwin Kandala1, Samson Kinyanjui4, Taryn Young5, Eustasius Musenge1, Jupiter Simbeye 6, Patrick Musonda7, Michael Johnson Mahande8, Patrick Weke 9, Nelson Owuor Onyango 9, Lawrence Kazembe10, Nazarius Mbona Tumwesigye11, Khangelani Zuma1,12, Nonhlanhla Yende-Zuma13, Marie-Claire Omanyondo Ohambe14, Emmanuel Nakua Kweku 15, Innocent Maposa1, Birhanu Ayele 4, Thomas Achia16, Rhoderick Machekano5, Lehana Thabane17, Jonathan Levin1, Marinus J.C. Eijkemans18, James Carpenter19, Charles Chasela 1,20, Kerstin Klipstein-Grobusch 1,18, Jim Todd 19
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The increase in health research in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has generated large amounts of data and led to a high demand for biostatisticians to analyse these data locally and quickly.  Donor-funded initiatives exist to address the dearth in statistical capacity, but few initiatives have been led by African institutions. The Sub-Saharan African Consortium for Advanced Biostatistics (SSACAB) aims to improve biostatistical capacity in Africa according to the needs identified by African institutions, through (collaborative) masters and doctoral training in biostatistics. We describe the SSACAB Consortium, which comprises 11 universities and four research institutions- supported by four European universities. SSACAB builds on existing resources to strengthen biostatistics for health research with a focus on supporting biostatisticians to become research leaders; building a critical mass of biostatisticians, and networking institutions and biostatisticians across SSA.  In 2015 only four institutions had established Masters programmes in biostatistics and SSACAB supported the remaining institutions to develop Masters programmes. In 2019 the University of the Witwatersrand became the first African institution to gain Royal Statistical Society accreditation for a Biostatistics MSc programme. A total of 150 fellows have been awarded scholarships to date of which 123 are Masters fellowships (41 female) of which with 58 have already graduated. Graduates have been employed in African academic (19) and research (15) institutions and 10 have enrolled for PhD studies. A total of 27 (10 female) PhD fellowships have been awarded; 4 of them are due to graduate by 2020. To date, SSACAB Masters and PhD students have published 17 and 31 peer-reviewed articles, respectively. SSACAB has also facilitated well-attended conferences, face-to-face and online short courses. Pooling the limited biostatistics resources in SSA, and combining with co-funding from external partners is an effective strategy for the development and teaching of advanced biostatistics methods, supervision and mentoring of PhD candidates.